It might seem hard to imagine that a soft-spoken father, minister and composer could be one of the most important figures to millions of children. But ask just about anyone born after 1965—and their parents and grandparents—about Fred Rogers and you’re likely to get a smile, a happy sigh and perhaps a few bars of the theme song to “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”
The famously cardigan-clad Fred McFeely Rogers was the man behind that show, which brought to life his dream of educating and inspiring children and families through mass media.
Rogers graduated with a bachelor’s degree in music composition from Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, in 1951. He launched his career in broadcast television with NBC as assistant producer for “The Voice of Firestone” and later as floor director for several music-themed programs, “The Lucky Strike Hit Parade,” “The Kate Smith Hour” and the “NBC Opera Theatre.”
In 1953 Rogers moved back to Pennsylvania at the request of WQED, the nation’s first community-sponsored educational television station. One of the first programs he produced there was called “The Children’s Corner.” It was here that several of his original characters—which would later become familiar faces on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”—made their first appearances.
While in Pittsburgh, Rogers attended both the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Child Development. He was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1963.
Rogers first appeared as an on-air host on a brief show he developed for Canada’s CBC, called “Misterogers.” In 1966 he acquired the rights to “Misterogers” and expanded it into a new series, called “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” which was distributed by the Eastern Educational Network. When it concluded production in 2000, after almost 900 episodes, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” was the longest-running program on public television.
Rogers was chairman of Family Communications Inc., the nonprofit company that he formed in 1971 to produce “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” The company later diversified to produce non-broadcast materials that reflect the same philosophy and purpose: to encourage the healthy emotional growth of children and their families. Today the company is called The Fred Rogers Company in honor of its founder.
Fred Rogers died on February 27, 2003, at his home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His legacy lives on in generations of viewers and their parents who learned from Mister Rogers to be curious, to be caring, and to be kind. Most of all, Rogers sought to build bridges among his viewers, whom he taught by example to reach out with a simple and enduring question: “Won’t you be my neighbor?”
Friendship. Pass It On!
This billboard about Friendship features Mister Fred Rogers (1928-2003); television host, educator, minister, songwriter.